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After guilty plea, suspect in David Rivera campaign-finance scandal: 'I was used'

@MarcACaputo

Justin Lamar Sternad didn’t have to say much Friday when he admitted guilt in a federal case targeting former Miami U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

But Sternad wanted to apologize.

And he wanted to send a message: he’s ready to testify against those who helped lead him and his doomed congressional campaign into the maw of the federal justice system.

“I was taken advantage of and used by others,” Sternad said in a statement, hastily handwritten on a yellow legal pad and read by his lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, outside of the federal courthouse.

“This is not an excuse, nor do I want this interpreted as an excuse,” Sternad said. “I would now like to publicly apologize to God, my country, my wife, children, family and friends.”

Sternad is scheduled to be back in court May 31 to be sentenced for accepting illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy and making a false statement — the three charges he pleaded guilty to Friday in a 43-minute hearing.

Under sentencing guidelines, Sternad could face at least a year in prison but his lawyer is hoping for far less time because of how cooperative Sternad has been and will be.

Neither Sternad nor federal investigators have publicly mentioned Rivera’s name or the name of the former congresswoman’s friend, Ana Alliegro, who ran Sternad’s campaign. Rivera has denied any wrongdoing; Alliegro has refused comment.

The FBI launched its investigation last year after campaign vendors told The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald that Alliegro and Rivera helped steer tens of thousands of dollars in unreported cash and checks to Sternad’s Democratic campaign for Congressional District 26, which stretched from Kendall to Key West.

The federal documents in Sternad’s case only say that “co-conspirators” helped direct the secret money, at least $81,486, in less than three months last summer. The cash promoted Sternad’s candidacy as he attacked fellow Democrat, Joe Garcia, a rival of Rivera’s.

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